Of frogs, princes and Bangkok gubernatorial elections
A gubernatorial candidate claiming great cooperation with the central powers-that-be is the key to running the City Hall. Checked. An opposition runner demanding checks and balances and warning of absolute domination. Checked. A third, tantalising contestant wooing voters bored to death with the first two's old-school politics and campaigns. Checked.Bangkok is ready for another gubernatorial election. Chances are, a large percentage of the eligible voters are split along the conventional lines. Some will go for the promised "seamless" Government House-City Hall tango, others will try to block the idea of total control, and the rest will opt for a protest vote, hoping the message will be heard.
Most surveys predict a comfortable victory for the winner. That will be boring, actually. We have had this scenario for about three decades now. Landslide triumphs for Bangkok gubernatorial winners were so common, people often stopped watching TV coverage 30 minutes after the polls closed. Most indications are pointing to more of the same this coming Sunday.
Any chance of unexpected excitement? Well, Bangkok is such a huge voting ground that a 2-per cent lead is a "bye-bye". A very slight possibility of a close race depends on how many people out there are like my friend, soap opera director Nukul Boon-iam, who was too ashamed to tell pollsters honestly who he will vote for.
The underdog and his party - we know who they are - must be pinning their last hope on the slim chance that many people were "doing a Nukul" when they were polled in popularity ratings for the candidates. Basically, he told the pollsters: "I always support [name of the party]. I even made donations to them and I have receipts to show for it. But what they have done to me [with the choice of their candidate] is unforgivable."
Basically, here's what he told me on Saturday night: "I wanted to send a message. I wanted to make them [the party] scared ****less."
"Don't tell me you'll go and vote for him [name of the candidate whose nomination broke Nukul's heart] anyway," I said.
He avoided my stare and murmured, "Well, what else can you do?"
Nukul is like a girl who slams the door behind her boyfriend and then keeps glancing at her mobile phone. Or a sports fan who throws objects around the house, yelling "That's it" after his team's run of poor results, only to be ready for new torture two days later. Politics, romance and sports are alike and different, but the losing party in the gubernatorial race must be hoping for the similarities come Sunday.
The favourite and his party, on the other hand, must be hoping that most of the disillusioned stay disillusioned on election day. In other words, the majority of locks, hopefully, have been changed and only a handful of mobile phones are being glanced at. The favourite doesn't care if a lot of votes will go to the "transitional man", or a third candidate. In fact, the more that happens, the better.
The favourite's fans are far more resolute than all the Nukuls in Bangkok. Or, you may say, far more practical. While the latter keeps on a romantic quest for a true prince charming, the former's motto is that if it has to be a frog, then so be it.
This is not to degrade any candidate. Cynically speaking, most, if not all, politicians are frogs. Their success or failure, therefore, depends on how well they apply romanticism or pragmatism, or both, in election campaigns. Successful frogs have to be good manipulators. They must know when to pretend to be princes, or when to say, "Hey, I'm a frog, all right? But you know what, you won't get a better deal than this."
The campaign has entered the home stretch, and from news reports, one frog is throwing wild, desperate punches while another is dancing happily around the ring, just avoiding a sucker blow. Is the latter enjoying one of the easiest gubernatorial campaigns? Probably.
One frog will leap high on Sunday while another will be roasted. Normally, that's when pragmatism dies and romanticism takes over, or vice versa. That's why Bangkok gubernatorial elections are so fascinating, though not necessarily indicative of what the city really needs.
As voters, we have to look at the bright side. Life full of good options is not necessarily good. At least we are not spoiled for choice this time around, and having something to seriously think about. My friend Nukul will vote with clenched jaw, and I'm sure he's not alone.